New Pirates first baseman Choi is ready to be a leader

November 17th, 2022

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The Pirates entered the offseason with several boxes that needed to be checked. First base was one. Veteran leadership was another. With the acquisition of from the Rays via trade on Nov. 10, Pittsburgh has, at least partially, addressed both areas with one move.

“I’m aware the Pirates are young right now, but when I first got to the Rays, it was kind of a similar situation,” Choi said through interpreter Daniel Park. “There were a lot of young guys. But I’ve learned how to approach them through the veterans who were there at that time.”

Choi, 31, isn’t just the oldest player on the team -- he’s the only player who’s currently over 30. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that he also has more service time than anyone on the 40-man roster (five years, 76 days), just nudging out Robert Stephenson (five years, 49 days). Choi is also just one of three Pirates to have appeared in the postseason, and the only one who has been to the World Series. For this young Pirates team, Choi’s experience and leadership project to be invaluable.

“I’m trying to bring everyone together and create a good synergy for the team,” Choi said.

Before Choi meets his future teammates, he will undergo a minor procedure on his right elbow to remove a chipped bone, something general manager Ben Cherington addressed after the trade was made official. Choi detailed that his elbow felt swollen throughout the season, making it difficult to extend his arms.

The injury played a part in Choi’s subpar second half, in which he posted a .565 OPS across 162 plate appearances. Choi does not believe the rehab process will take that long, and he expressed confidence that he'll be available in time for Spring Training.

“In preparation for the season, I think the biggest goal of mine is to have statistics better than last season, but also something bigger than that is not having an injury throughout the whole season and being healthy,” Choi said.

Choi described having close relationships with Hoy Park and Ji Hwan Bae, both of whom also hail from South Korea. Choi has never played at PNC Park in his seven Major League seasons, but said that he has heard good things about the city and the club from former Pirate Tyler Glasnow.